All about 'Americanism'
Saturday, July 01, 2006
The immigration, as I recently noted, has provided an opening for all kinds of hoary old white-supremacist appeals to "traditional values." Howie Klein notes that one of the hoariest comes transmitted to us from the likes of Arizona Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth, whose new anti-immigration tome, Whatever It Takes, includes the following enconium to none other than Henry Ford, and his campaign for "Americanism" in the 1920s:
- Henry Ford, a leader in [the Americanization] movement, said, "These men of many nations must be taught American ways, the English language, and the right way to live." Talk like that today and our liberal elites will brand you a cultural imperialist, or worse. But if you ask me, Ford had a better idea. Sadly, Americanization has given way to an insidious multiculturalism, the noxious idea that all cultures are equally valid and worthy... Henry Ford must be spinning in his grave.
- Over three decades ago, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan asked, "To what does one assimilate in modern America?" In Henry Ford's day, we had a great big list of things. But if multiculturalism and diversity are valued above all else, the answer is you can assimilate however you want, or not at all.
Of course, as we've pointed out previously, multiculturalism arose as a direct reaction against white supremacism and eventually overthrew it as the dominant American worldview. Most critics are coy about what they would replace it with, but not Hayworth: He wants us to return to the "Americanism" practiced in the 1920s.
Klein directs us to Ford's own definition of the term:
- To "Americanize" means, in our ordinary speech, to bring into sympathy with the traditions and institutions of the United States, but the Jews do not mean only the United States when they say "America." They mean also South and Central America-- where so many revolutions have occurred. There are large numbers of Jews in Argentina, and many are found in other countries. It would probably give a wrong slant to the fact to say that the Jewish leaders are wholly anti-America, but it is true to say that they are against the "Americanization" of the Jewish immigrant stream. That is, that the trend of "Americanism" is so different from the trend of "Judaism" that the two are in conflict. This does not indicate treason toward American nationalisms perhaps, so much as it indicates loyalty toward Jewish nationalism.
Indeed, as we've explained earlier:
- Maybe they have simply bought the timeworn image of Ford as the clever industrialist who brought the automobile to the masses.
Maybe they simply have forgotten -- or were never aware of -- the rest of the Henry Ford story.
That would be the Henry Ford who in 1920 began publishing The International Jew -- one of the most infamous anti-Semitic screeds in history. This text first raised to national prominence the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion hoax -- and indeed may have been responsible for its subsequent wide distribution in Hitler's Germany as well.
Speaking of Hitler, here's what he had to say about the speculation in 1923 that Ford might run for president:
- I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections ... We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America ... We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated in millions throughout Germany."
As the ADL notes:
- Though Ford apologized for The International Jew and closed the Dearborn Independent, he later accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler's Nazi government in July, 1938.
This award, incidentally, is the highest honor Germany can offer to a non-German.
Ford also probably did more than any American to help build the Nazi war machine in the 1930s.
Ford's version was obviously a serious distortion of Theodore Roosevelt's original call for "Americanism," which explicitly eschewed racism, though perhaps it was also its logical outcome. Certainly, the attitudes he promoted also wound up playing a large role in the subsequent anti-Japanese immigration campaigns.
But Ford wasn't the only one out there thumping the drum for "Americanism." Indeed, as I've detailed previously, one of the main slogans of the Ku Klux Klan then (and later) was that its program was all about "pure Americanism" or "100 percent Americanism." (The same was true of William Dudley Pelley's openly fascist Silver Shirts organization.) One of its best-known pamphlets was entitled "The Klan's Fight for Americanism," which
- ... makes no apologies for its members' attempts to impose their views upon "liberals," immigrants, Catholics, Jews, or peoples of color. Instead it sounds a clarion call for the Klan's "progressive conservatism" and celebrates its influence in American public life.
Yes, the Klan saw themselves as "progressive conservatives" of the time.
Want to bet J.D. Hayworth calls himself a "compassionate conservative" too?
Malkin and the conspiracy theorists
Aiiieeee!!! The New World Order is on the loose again! Run for your lives!
You see, old far-right conspiracies aren't just being trotted out in defense of global warming. They're also playing a big role in the immigration debate -- though, of course, we already knew this.
The latest iteration, unsurprisingly, is coming from the Malkin corner of the Bizarro Universe -- specifically, Juan Mann at Malkin's immigration blog recently had this to say:
The root of the evil: our apparent forced march toward a "comprehensive" New World Order of regional and ultimately global government, where nation-busting mass immigration is just one part of the process.
Though hardly a recent development, the excellent recent work by Jerome R. Corsi exposing the North American Union, the Amero currency, the NAFTA Superhighway—and its Texas highway segment which is already underway—leaves little doubt that the collectivist, internationalist agenda of America's ruling elite continues full steam ahead whether the public likes it or not.
He then goes on to glowingly cite the late Sam Francis as a prophet of the problem -- because, you see, Francis understood that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were actually caused by mass immigration.
Yes, that Sam Francis:
- The 1990s saw Francis radicalized to the point where he is today the chief editor for a leading white supremacist hate group, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC)*. That tie was initiated in 1993, when Francis published his first column in the CCC's tabloid, Citizens Informer, complaining that the media ignored whites murdered by blacks while police brutality victim Rodney King, characterized as a black criminal, was celebrated.
The next year, Francis made his first appearance at a conference of American Renaissance*, a magazine devoted to eugenics (the "science" of breeding better human beings) and allegedly race-based characteristics (such as IQ levels, sexual aggressiveness and propensity to criminality). In June 1994, Francis praised the CCC in a Times column for "planting seeds that may eventually bear greater fruit" than the Republican Party (the "Stupid Party," in Francis' phrase).
Ultimately, Francis was fired from the Times in 1995 after conservative author Dinesh D'Souza quoted Francis' 1994 speech at the American Renaissance conference and described him as embodying the "new spirit of white bigotry." Since then, Francis has appeared at every biannual American Renaissance conference and written for the magazine.
In 1999, Francis joined the CCC's Citizens Informer as co-editor with Chris Temple, an adherent of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology who has since left the job. In that post, he has stacked the publication with immigrant-bashers and refocused the increasingly strident CCC on opposition to non-white immigration. [Ed. note: Temple first came to public notice as a spokesman for Identity churches in northern Idaho.]
Yes, the same Sam Francis who once wrote:
- The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.
The same Sam Francis who had a conniption over that Monday Night Football stunt with Terrell Owens and the Desperate Housewife, not because of the nudity but because of the miscegenation:
- The point was not just to hurl a pie in the face of morals and good taste but also of white racial and cultural identity. The message of the ad was that white women are eager to have sex with black men, that they should be eager, and that black men should take them up on it.
Of course, we already knew that neither Mann nor Malkin have any compunction about playing footsie with -- indeed, openly admiring -- white supremacists; after all, they both write for the SPLC-designated hate group VDare. Mann's post links directly to "more" on the story at VDare.
Mann even goes on to extoll the virtues of mass deportation:
- So not only has there been a quiet rigging of the nationwide expedited removal provisions by successive administrations, but now the much-celebrated H.R. 4437 "enforcement" bill actually destroys the possibility of there ever being nationwide summary removal (outside of border areas).
And without the summary removal of illegal aliens—sending them packing without years of immigration litigation — there will be no real immigration law enforcement in this country . . . because no one will be leaving anytime soon.
Just so everyone understands: there will be no "summary removal" of illegal aliens without, as at least an intermediary step, mass incarceration. This point, however, is one the Malkinites seem eager to evade, as evidenced by Malkin herself in her recent appearance on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show, when O'Reilly tagged Malkin with this question:
- O'Reilly: Michelle, do you think there will be any compromise on the immigration bill, or do you still want to kick down doors and drag little kids out and throw them across the border?
Malkin: I wish you would stop characterizing my position that way. My position, my position, seriously, is that we need to enforce the law, and deport people who are breaking it. And I don't think that there is any compromise on that. ...
What Malkin and the rest seem to want to gloss over is that it will be impossible to deport the 11 million or people who are "breaking the law" without kicking down doors and dragging little kids and throwing them across the border.
Or, perhaps more notably, it won't be possible without creating mass detention facilities capable of processing them all for deportation. After all, even illegal immigrants are given due process under our system of laws -- even though the nativists, of course, would like us to think otherwise.
But the reappearance of the hoary "New World Order" conspiracy theory on Malkin's own blog raises the question, once again, about what Malkin said on another Bill O'Reilly program:
- In fact -- again, I think that this is something that the mainstream media does not recognize. It is in fact conservatives who are very outspoken in condemning fringe people, and people who are extremists on the right side of the aisle.
And in her book Unhinged:
- And while the Left's knee-jerk response to these stories will doubtlessly be to trot out well-worn examples of unseemly behavior on the right -- Dick Cheney swearing, or mean-spirited conservatives' Internet jibes about Democrats -- the truth is that it's conservatives themselves who blow the whistle on their bad boys and go after the real extremism on their side of the aisle.
- And while conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists and conspiracy theories, extremism and conspiracy theories have become the driving force of the Democrat Party.
So, if the right "goes after" its extremists, and excludes the "conspiracy theories," why does Malkin tolerate them on one of her own blogs? Or does the right chase out its racist nutballs by extolling them as heroes?
This couldn't have anything to do with Malkin's well-established fondness for conspiracy theories herself, could it?
[Hat tip to Ryan at Malkin(s)watch.]
Weird science from the far right
Friday, June 30, 2006
It seems that in facing up to the realities of global warming, the right -- taking its cue from Rush Limbaugh, who's perfected this schtick -- is responding by flinging as much shit on the wall as humanly possible, not so much to see what sticks but just to obscure the issues long enough for them to evade them.
And in some cases, they're even stealing entire sections from the old Far Right Playbook. (You can imagine my surprise.)
The most recent example came on Wednesday's Joe Scarborough show on MSNBC, featuring a discussion of global warming from the right-wing ABC News reporter John Stossel. After Scarborough and Stossel ate up a chunk of airspace badmouthing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, they invited Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen to join in the discussion. Slocum immediately set about putting the record straight regarding the scientific consensus on global warming.
Then Stossel piped up:
- STOSSEL: Well, my earpiece fell out so I missed part of what he said, but the National Academy of Sciences report said we can‘t rule out that this is just natural. I wish people would look it up and read the whole thing instead of the summaries of the liberal media.
SLOCUM: They conclusively said it was man-made.
STOSSEL: They said we think man made. Man is contributing to this, but we don‘t know. We can‘t rule out that these are all natural influences.
SCARBOROUGH: And Tyson, isn't that again, you heard the beginning of this conversation with both John and I believe there is global warming, we just think Al Gore and others are being alarmists about it.
SLOCUM: There is no alarmists that the facts that are on the ground here. The fact is that NOAA in the federal government has shown that there is conclusive evidence that the tropical waters are getting warmer as a result of global warming and while that doesn‘t lead to more hurricanes, what it leads to is more intense hurricanes.
SCARBOROUGH: We see these Al Gore shot shots of Manhattan being submerged by water and South Florida being submerged. Should we not book any vacations in South Beach 10 years?
SLOCUM: These things are not going to happen overnight. It‘s going to take time. And there is still time at the federal level to start changing our policies and the fact I is that a year ago.
STOSSEL: What would those be? Those changed policies—Gas should cost maybe $10 a gallon?
SLOCUM: Absolutely not. We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels.
STOSSEL: You are right. That's corporate welfare and it's disgusting.
SCARBOROUGH: And we all agree with you on that.
STOSSEL: That's a tiny amount of money.
SLOCUM: Absolutely. So what we need to end the subsidies to the oil and coal industry and start investing in renewable energy and mass transit.
STOSSEL: That's going to make any difference?
SLOCUM: Of course it's going to make a difference.
SCARBOROUGH: I think we already—isn't the problem in the end, though, Tyson, even if America does that, even if Great Britain and the western powers do that, you have China and India and these developing country that is don't have any environmental regulation regulations and the polluting coming from that region is going to dwarf what the United States puts out.
SLOCUM: Actually, China just implemented stronger full economy standards than the United States. So China is starting to understand it. They are starting to understand the ravages that their heavy reliance on coal is.
I am not holding up China as a model of environmental activism, but what the reality is that the United States with less than five percent of the world's population contributes to 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. China, with a billion and a half people contributes 14 percent. So what we clearly need international cooperation and we cannot deny.
STOSSEL: Sounds like socialism to me.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. John, I will give you the final word to clear up the myths, the lies, the downright stupidity that Al Gore and others may be giving Americans.
STOSSEL: That took me 300 pages in the book in the book. Let me just say that this, at bottom is a hatred of capitalism and a hatred of industrial production. Yes, it's true, we produce more carbon dioxide, but we are also the cleanest country in the world.
As we get wealthier, the air gets cleaner and we can afford to do things that maybe some day if the globe is warming we have to make adjustments, it's our wealth that will allow us to save the world. If we let these socialists control our lives, we will be worse off.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. We will have to leave it there. Every time Tyson comes on he gets called a Marxist.
STOSSEL: Jim Kramer called him that.
Media Matters dissects Stossel's factual falsehoods (and Crooks and Liars has the video), but what you really stood out was how readily Stossel reverted to the classic right-wing retort: when all else fails, call 'em a pinko.
But Stossel really means it. Because it's becoming increasingly clear that he's adopted a view of the environmental movement that springs directly from the far-right Patriot movement: that it actually is a cult-like "religion" that has been whipped up as a front for a cabal of socialists intent on ruling the world.
At least, that appears to be the direction he's heading, given the accusations of "socialism" and Stossel's recent column attacking environmentalists, which concluded:
- Science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, "In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers' purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the 'Naturist' reveals his hatred for his own race — i.e., his own self-hatred." The "Naturist" religion, which today we call "environmentalism," elevates every other form of life above human life. The Constitution was written to protect human beings' rights to life, liberty and property, but environmentalism says those rights must be subordinated to the protection of other species. And men and women who count on their land to support them must live at the mercy of the regulators.
How would environmental fanatics capture a government agency? Well, who is more likely to volunteer to take a job in a bureaucracy that has little to recommend it except that it gives you the power to use government force to control the lives of others? A dispassionate scientist or a zealot?
In government, the zealots eventually take over.
[Stossel's methodology in this column is laid bare, incidentally, in the chief example he uses: the lynx study in Washington state in which scientists planted hair samples among those tested, which Stossel claims demonstrated that they were "rigging the test." But in truth, both investigations by the Forest Service and the Interior Department found that the scientists weren't "rigging" the experiment at all, but rather attempting to test the reliability of the lab that was checking the samples. They were chastised for their obtuseness, but the claims that they represented environmental ideologues run amok were completely baseless and bogus.]
Now, it's clear that Stossel is springboarding to an extent from his interview last year with Michael Crichton in which he remarked that "people's feelings about the environment are very close to religion."
But Stossel has elevated this to a whole new level. Though of course, it's actually an old one. He's essentially adopted the militia theory of the environmental movement.
The first militia meeting I ever attended was at a small meeting hall in Maltby, Wash., and the subject was environmentalists' plans for western Washington. Bob Fletcher of the Militia of Montana got up and told the crowd -- with the help of some pie charts and maps -- that a proposal for an internation ecospheric wilderness was actually part of a U.N. front for a plan to start herding Americans into concentration camps that they were secretly building even then. He referred to environmentalism as a "cult" and a "religion," and suggested that "ordinary citizens" had become expendable in the view of the "cultists."
MOM also used to hawk books about how the Greens were secretly "Red" underneath. And then there was the video they used to sell with Helen Chenoweth.
Chenoweth, you may recall, was the militia-sympathizing congresswoman from northern Idaho who finally disappeared from the political scene amid a scandal over her sexual indiscretions. But before she was elected (in 1994), she recorded the speech that MOM immortalized for their audience.
Here's how it went:
- What is some of the programs that the environmentalists are engaging in? Well, some of the programs are programs of fear -- fear that is so broad and so expansive that you and I can do nothing about it.
What about the idea that the earth is warming? You know, we hear that every day -- that the earth is warming. But when we look back, where are temperatures taken? Well, they’re taken from airports. Weather balloons go up from airports, where heat rises from miles and miles of concrete.
And you see, the satellites that are recording data around the globe will tell us that today, the earth is not warming. But you see, what the pseudoscientists -- who have turned into political scientists and lobbying scientists -- are saying is that these issues are so huge that you and I can do nothing about it.
... When we begin to realize what the battle really is, then we begin to focus on what we need to do. Because ladies and gentlemen, the battle isn't a scientific battle. The battle isn’t even a battle for species. The battle isn’t even a battle for certain areas of timber or certain wilderness areas. Only until we're able to understand that this battle is a full-fledged spiritual battle will we begin to understand and have the weapons to deal with it.
You see, always in the past, armies have clashed, and we've had physical lines of battle. We've had armies and armaments battling out back and forth for the conquering of countries. We’ve been able to see over the course of history battle lines drawn and battle lines moved. We've seen countries conquered, we’ve seen countries victorious. But ladies and gentlemen, today as I stand here in front of you, we are in a battle today that is far more insidious and far more dangerous as far as conquering our people, their soul and this great nation than we have ever faced before -- because the battle lines are invisible.
But the battle lines are spiritual in nature. Who are these environmentalists? These environmentalists are a group of people whose members are driven by a certain sect of esoteric concepts, with all the trappings of religious dogma. They believe that nature is God, where we know that the Creator, God Himself, is the one who created nature. And there comes the conflict.
Because you see, for any land management, they believe in their spirit that we are trying to manage and move in and desecrate their sacred ground. Nature is God to them.
You see, this country flourished very well because we understood the role of God in this country....
... A man by the name of Marx developed what he called the Communist Manifesto. And ladies and gentlemen, when we understand that that was where the very depths of the darkness of this spiritual war began. They declared war on private ownership in the Communist Manifesto.
... But you see, of greater significance, and in more frightening detail, that manifesto went on to lay out a series of sequential steps by which this would be accomplished. Among the many goals that the Communist Manifesto predicted was the abolition of property and land and the application of all rents of land to public purposes. Today we call it taxes. The abolition of all rights of inheritance. That's a constant battle that we're waging. ...
You see, what the environmental movement is doing is breaking down state and national boundaries. And so with that one enactment, and the listing of that one species, we encompass northern California, Oregon and Washington. The unfortunate thing is that it breaks down the sovereignty of states -- and you see acid is no respecter of the national boundaries between Canada and America. And that’s part of the way we begin to globalize and break down the sovereignty of this great nation.
And ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line is that if we are forced to place our world resources in the hands of a few who are controlling a world government, that isn't what God planned for us, and it certainly is not in our best interest. We will certainly lose our liberties, and it begins with the breakdown of our state boundaries. And that's what the spotted owl issue did.
Right-wingers aren't just channeling Joe McCarthy when they go on TV and smear environmentalists as "socialists" who "hate capitalism." They're tossing Helen Chenoweth in there for good measure.
The rift in the Minutemen
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
One of the really fortunate aspects of the far right in America is that it is constitutionally predisposed to fracturing: the combination of latent paranoid tendencies, controlling personalities and gigantic egos makes it nearly certain that its various components can never form an effective, long-term coalition.
This is why, for instance, the militia/Patriot movement of the 1990s was ultimately so incoherent and impotent. You couldn't have fit the egos of any two of its leaders -- say, John Trochmann, LeRoy Schweitzer, Bo Gritz, Norm Olson, or Mark Koernke -- into a large meeting hall, let alone get them to work in concert for any longer than a few weeks.
The paranoia was especially apparent between the various factions; I think it's fair to say that, at some point or another, I heard it rumored among the rank and file that each of these militia leaders was, in reality, working for the feds or "the other side." And it's probable that nearly all these rumors were being fed by the various leaders about each other.
Now, rather predictably, the same fate is befalling the Minutemen, probably the most successful immanation of the far right into the mainstream since the heyday of the Klan in the 1920s. A rift between the Minuteman Project's cofounders, Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, has led to a split in the organization, and at the center of it is the Beltway consultancy that brought us the Terri Schiavo controversy -- which, you may recall, was yet another instance of the far right invading the mainstream.
It's already been a bad month for the Minutemen. After their cross-country tour in early May fell flat publicity-wise, so did their fence-building stunt on the Arizona border. On top of that, the fence itself was badly vandalized.
But the bigger problems for the Minutemen are internal, largely because of the apparent rift between Gilchrist and Simcox over their employment of the firm Diener Consulting -- officially based in Lancaster, Pa., but operating mostly within the D.C. area -- for public-relations help.
Though the two men are regularly referred to as "cofounders" of the Minuteman Project, Gilchrist now claims that they only cooperated for a long time. Simcox's group, then called "Civil Homeland Defense," served as support for the larger Minuteman Project, according to this version of events. After their initial public-relations success, though, Simcox and Gilchrist began going off in their own directions; Simcox started up the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps late last year (the Web site appears to have become operational in January of this year); the rift between the two organizations is underscored by the absence of the MMP from the MCDC's links page.
During Gilchrist's ill-fated run for Congress (under the banner, no less, of the far-right Constitution Party) in late 2005, he evidently hired the Diener Consulting team to help run the campaign's public relations. Simcox had reportedly already retained Diener for help as early as spring 2005.
Diener has only a perfunctory Website, but one of its associated operations -- a mailing firm called Response Unlimited -- offers much more. RU is a business that gathers mailing lists of potential "conservative" contributors and distributes them to various right-wing organizations. Its client list is a virtual Who's Who of the American right, including the Republican National Committee.
What this means is that, when someone contributes to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, their name and contact information is then given to a whole host of right-wing groups, depending on who's buying.
You'll also note that "The Spotlight" is on the list. As the Southern Poverty law Center reported this spring, this is part of the way Response Unlimited taps into the far right -- and as a "mainstream" organization, bridges the gap between movement conservatives and right-wing extremists:
- For eight years, a major direct-mail firm "specializing in the Christian and conservative markets" has been selling lists of the readers of America's leading anti-Semitic newspaper and, since about 2001, its successor publication.
Response Unlimited, based in Waynesboro, Va., and headed by Christian Right activist Philip Zodhiates, charges $100 for the rental of every 1,000 names of subscribers to the now-defunct Spotlight newspaper. Founded by veteran anti-Semite Willis Carto, The Spotlight carried anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and wildly conspiracist articles interspersed with ads for Klan, neo-Nazi and related hate groups.
Zodhiates also peddles lists of subscribers to the American Free Press, which replaced The Spotlight when that tabloid was shut down amid legal and financial troubles surrounding Carto. The Free Press began immediately after The Spotlight fizzled in 2001 and picked up many of its predecessor paper's propagandists. Today, the Free Press carries stories on Zionism, secret "New World Order" conspiracies, American Jews and Israel. Mixed in are advertisements for outfits like Pete Peter's Scriptures for America and Kingdom Identity Ministries -- practitioners of Christian Identity, a theology that claims that Jews are the literal descendants of Satan.
As the piece goes on to explain, RU and Diener played a critical role in the Schiavo matter, with the lead taken by Philip Sheldon, who happens to be the son of the right-wing fundamentalist preacher Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition:
- In March 2005, The New York Times reported that Response Unlimited had cut a deal with Bob Schindler, the father of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state who was dying after a court authorized removal of her feeding tube. In return for the list of people who had donated money to Schindler, Zodhiates' firm agreed to send out an E-mail soliciting further donations for the Schindlers, who had battled Schiavo's husband over whether or not to retain the feeding tube.
Many found the list deal, made even before Schiavo finally died two days after the Times article appeared on March 29, ghoulish. One unpaid Schindler family spokesman, apparently unaware that Bob Schindler had authorized the deal, even told the paper it was "possibly the most distasteful thing I have ever seen."
According to the Times, Schindler cut his deal with Phil Sheldon, who is an officer of Response Unlimited. Sheldon is the son of the Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, a group that also sent out appeals for support for Schiavo, who many Christian Right groups mistakenly believed was semi-conscious. Phil Sheldon is also partner with Zodhiates in a Web-based firm called Conservative Petitions that specializes in creating electronic petitions for right-wing causes.
The modus operandi with Sheldon's operations -- Response Unlimited, Diener Consultants, and Conservative Petitions -- is consistently the same: pander to far-right interests, obtain their membership lists, and then funnel them to other, mostly mainstream right-wing interests.
It's hard to tell whether Gilchrist had a bad experience with Diener, but he himself makes it clear that he has no association with them now. As Isis reported earlier, Gilchrist and Simcox apparently parted ways in December, when they met at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee gathering.
Objections to the associations with Diener began surfacing as early as February this year, when an anonymous Townhall commenter posted about the connection. The objection seemed to be that Diener was in bed with the "neoconservatives" against whom they were already arrayed to do battle with.
More recently, similar e-mails have been circulating among Minutemen supporters regarding the role of Diener. The chief source of these appears to be a fellow named Joe McCutchen, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist about whose activities I've reported previously. (More about McCutchen here and here.) He also was was a speaker at the recent gathering of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens event outside Louisville.
Here's the e-mail McCutchen recently circulated:
June 20, 2006
While we hate to do anything to rain on the Minuteman parade, we also feel it necessary to tell you the truth and let you make your own decisions. This is in reaction to numerous inquiries from across the country.
As of May, 2005, after learning the names of the consulting firm & individuals in total control of the Minuteman organization -- donations, expenditures, P.R., advertising, press releases, databases, websites, etc. -- we immediately started asking questions. How much money is being donated and where is it going? While we believed totally in the concept, we also knew how vulnerable it was to infiltration. Unfortunately most of the MMP insiders had no clue as to the nature & goals of the neoconservatives in control of the Beltway.
Even after Joe and others warned Simcox & others of the dangers of Beltway Barracudas, MMP was signed over lock, stock, and barrel to ... Diener Consultants consisting of a number of individuals, including Mary Parker Lewis (former campaign manager for Alan Keyes, special assistant to Bill Bennett & William Kristol, fundraiser for the Terry Schiavo campaign), Connie Hair (spokesman for Free Republic, advisor to Alan Keyes, P.R. for Bill Bennett who vehemently opposed Calif. Prop 187, 8 yr veteran of military psychological operations), Phil Sheldon (President of multiple fundraisers such as Rightmarch.com, Conservativepetitions.com, Diener, ad infinitum)... fundraisers & neo-cons deluxe who immediately made the MMP a "project of Declaration Alliance"—One of Alan Keyes numerous fundraisers.
These people specialize in patriotic, religious sounding organizations with sound bites they know real Americans want to hear. Masters of Deceit.
What happened? Simcox left the border (his stated goal) and went on the cocktail speaking circuit. Gilchrist left the interior protest movement against employers of illegals (his stated goal) and ran for office….both sidetracked from their original goals.
In our opinion it was a wonderful concept and the last best chance we had to survive as a sovereign nation. We also knew that if April 2005 was a roaring success the enemies would be descending with vigor to cash in and diffuse. That is exactly what happened.
The purpose of this missive is to inform. It is your business who you want to support but at the same time you should know who controls that money and what their disclosure is ... so far none from Diener. We doubt that Simcox or Gilchrist know. We understand that they now have completely separate organizations and that Simcox is still with Diener.
It is with heavy heart that we disclose our findings since we were so 100% behind the concept ... but truth is truth, and so be it. Are we to believe that 1/4 mile or 100 miles of fencing will affect the illegal flow?
Your decision is your own to make ... but don't say you were not warned.
This in no way impugns the real hardworking patriot individuals and independent groups which have given so much of their time, sweat, tears, money, and efforts to stop the illegal invasion, with no compensation ... and there are many…some still working within infiltrated organizations without their knowledge.
Hats off to them and our deepest appreciation!
Joe & Barb
In short order, Gilchrist fired off a couple of missives. One was a disclaimer making clear that he was no longer associated with Simcox:
Sometimes You Stand Alone
From time to time the media has confused The Minuteman Project, Inc. with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. This confusion has lead to hard feelings and misrepresentations. Therefore we would like to set the record straight.
Over a year ago Mr. Jim Gilchrist led almost 1,000 volunteers to the U.S. and Mexico border in southeast Arizona and successfully conducted the largest minuteman campaign since the Revolutionary War. The Minuteman Project also proved beyond a doubt that U.S. borders can be protected if our political leaders merely have the will to do so. Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project brought national awareness to the illegal alien invasion of the United States and embarrassed both the U.S. Congress and the White House. When asked by the media about The Minuteman Project, the president went on record as saying Mr. Jim Gilchrist and the volunteers of The Minuteman Project were "vigilantes".
Jim Gilchrist is the 21st century Minuteman. On October 1, 2004 he founded The Minuteman Project, Inc. as a stand alone organization that is in no part related to, or has any business dealing with, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, whose President is Chris Simcox.
While The Minuteman Project, Inc. and Mr. Jim Gilchrist recognize the work of Chris Simcox and his Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, there is no business relationship with either Chris Simcox or his organization. The Minuteman Project, Inc., and Mr. Jim Gilchrist will always applaud the work of any patriot who believes in the sovereignty and security of the United States of America. The Minuteman Project, Inc. is directed solely by Mr. Jim Gilchrist and his board of Directors, and no one else.
This message, incidentally, was widely forwarded by "white separatist" Virginia Abernethy, who attached this note:
This is an important message from Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project, definitely to be distinguished from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps [MCDC] under the direction of Chris Simcox.
THe MCDC is associated with fund-raising in connection with the Diener Group, a Washington D.C. enterprise that is said to have virtually no history with the grassroots or interest in reducing mass immigration.
Gilchrist also sent out the following direct response to McCutchen's accusations:
Date sent: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 07:59:52 -0700
The Minuteman Project board of directors and volunteers have never received any compensation for their services during the past two years of The Minuteman Project's existence.
Joe and Barbara McCutcheon, and a couple other individuals, are determined to bring hell and havoc to any attempt by The Minuteman Project, or any other immigration law enforcement advocacy group, in our efforts to stop the chaotic lack of enforcement of US immigration laws.
If this movement fails, ladies and gentlemen, it will be because of the likes of people like Joe McCutcheon...and a handful of others, who continue sending out these ugly emails around the world.
The Minuteman Project has no affiliation with Deiner Consultants or Phil Sheldon, etc. That relationship was terminated right after the Gilchrist for Congress campaign was over. The consultants were paid to manage that campaign. No one else stepped up to accept that challenge. I did not feel it appropriate to hire paid consultants to carry out The Minuteman Project, and there was no money available to pay them from the MMProject. By the way, that political race was part of the MM movement, and it worked exceptionally well in waking up the US House of Representatives.
My run in that election literally turned the US House of Reps around and got their attention. Since that election, the House has introduced bill after bill defeating President Bush's "no border, no sovereignty" agenda. Please bear with us, folks. This effort takes a lot of time and there is much more to do. It cannot be done with the waving of a magic wand. Thanks for your understanding.
I invite Joe and Barbara McCutcheon to spend several years of their lives, without pay, and with absolutely no appreciation or help from federal, state, and city bureaucrats, in a tireless attempt to bring the USA back under the rule of law so that the illegal alien invasion can be "stopped" and "reversed".
The McCutcheon's continue to set the Minuteman/Woman movement back every time they broadcast their "hate the minutemen and women" tirades.
Hey, folks, I am not perfect...I am just trying to do the best I can to resolve this national calamity with the limited resources available to me. I invite all Americans to follow my lead...especially before engaging in merciless, destructive criticism, slander and libel, or any other jealous attempts to disrupt the MM movement.
Jim Gilchrist, Founder - The Minuteman Project (Laguna Hills, Ca.)
Barbara Coe, another far-right anti-immigration extremist who heads the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, was in on the thread and offered her own comments:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2006 12:45 AM
To: Subscribers Only
Subject: (Fwd) buyER BEWARE
For purposes of clarification, below are CCIR comments on the below message by the McCutchens:
JIM GILCHRIST is the founder of the MINUTEMAN PROJECT (MMP). He is nationally and and internationally recognized as the 21st Century "Minuteman" and he did NOT abandon either his border security nor his employer sanctions efforts. CCIR can attest to the fact that MMP is an independent organization, all donations fund the needs of the MMP volunteers physically on the border (food, equipment, etc.), interior enforcement efforts and both his and MMP's expenses (printing, travel, etc.) Neither Jim nor MMP volunteers receive any salary.
CHRIS SIMCOX is the founder of the CIVIL HOMELAND DEFENSE CORPS. He is now with Diener Consultants, representing the MINUTEMAN CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS (MCDC). It is unknown to CCIR if donations to MCDC are used to fund border security efforts or disseminated to chosen candidates, projects, etc. as Diener Consultants see fit.
Again, to avoid confusion, be aware that MMP and MCDC are two separate organizations.
One follower named "Liz DeMarco" offered something of a counterpoint:
- It is with heavy heart that I jump into this fray, which probably should have remained private communication. However a "partial post" has been circulating on our sites, and, from appearances, it originates with someone in close contact with Barbara Coe. I will paste the "public information" under this email. This concerns communication between Jim Gilchrist and Joe and Barb McCutcheon, with comments from Barbara.
The McCutcheons were at the border for the month of April, and Simcox became disenchanted with them because they warned him, prior to his signing the marketing contract, about Diener Consultants. Simcox then "banned" or "fired" them because of their efforts to help him stayed informed and make appropriate decisions. As you know, this is what happens to anyone who asks Simcox a question he does not like, or cannot answer. They also warned Jim Gilchrist about Diener. This effort was to protect the movement.
Joe and Barb are unafraid to reveal the results of their research, and repercussions be damned. They recognized Diener for the neoconservative marketing group that they are, and have done their best to thwart the diversion of money donated by activists to reduce/stop illegal immigration.
As you know, this is not a popular effort because most people cannot handle the truth. Many people think they can throw money at the problem and it will go away - they can just write a check, and keep watching television.
The McCutcheons have been fighting this battle for 25 - 30 years already - before we even knew it was a battle. They are not afraid to call a spade a spade, and if you will re-read the email from Joe and Barb, and proceed onto Gilchrist's response, and so on, you will clearly see that no aspersions were cast on Jim Gilchrist at all. There was only an expression of disappointment regarding the period in which Jim's focus was diverted from the Minuteman Project while he was running for office.
Jim chose to respond in an unprofessional, unfounded accusational tone, which he has partially amended in additional emails (not yet made public), but a sincere apology would probably be appreciated.
... If this movement fails, and it has been severely weakened, it will be because of the Simcox involvement with Diener Consultants, and the resulting diversion of funds to the various groups, (for example RightMarch), with which Diener is affiliated. Your money is not necessarily being used in an appropriate manner -- to directly benefit the cause of immigration reduction. Many activists have requested an accounting of expenditures on the part of MCDC and Diener Consultants; no information is forthcoming.
This is separate and apart from Jim Gilchrist's activities to the best of my knowledge.
The original information provided to Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist regarding Diener Consultants was factual and timely, and, as you know, in the recent "Fencegate," Diener was traced even farther - right into the bowels of Mexico. They are a company working both sides of this, and other issues - that's what marketing companies do.
I suspect Jim Gilchrist learned that during or after his campaign. It is rumored that Jim did not benefit from his association with Diener, but that he ended up owing them money. I do not know this for a fact, but I believe Jim has severed relations with Diener Consultants, as he writes.
And the McCutchens fired back as well:
If I read one more instance you impugning my and Barbara's character I will have no choice but to institute legal action. You know very well that no one has defended the MMP more than us and you know our objections have always been toward the use & abuse of the MMP by Washington fundraisers.
We've never had anything but the utmost respect for the volunteers, hence our efforts, and you know it. Stop blaming us for your mistakes.
We have said time and again the MMP was the best chance the country has had in our lifetimes.
Jim it was only yesterday that I again congratulated you for your MM idea which was America's finest hour re our sovereignty and you emailed back asking us to join you in Texas in Sept.
I stand by all my positions and statements and offer again the opportunity to discuss them with you by any device objectively.
We stated in our last missive that it was our understanding that you were no longer affiliated with Simcox or Diener. What is going on here?
No need to worry, Joe. It's just the usual right-wing paranoid control freaks stomping out their turf and ensuring their purity of essence through better conspiracy theories. Right?
At least it will keep them distracted, for the nonce, from whatever else it is they might be up to.
I'll have more on this rift -- which may actually be breaking down along some interesting lines -- in the coming days.
Those 'traditional' Democrats
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
It is, perhaps, symbolic of just how deeply right-wing extremism has invaded the mainstream discourse -- primarily through the immigration debate -- that now there are people running as anti-immigration Democrats who have backgrounds involving various kinds of far-right extremism.
The most recent of these, via Blog for Arizona, is William "Bill" Johnson, who's running in the Democratic primary in Arizona's 8th congressional district. On the surface, Johnson is just another conservative anti-immigration Democrat, who, as Mike notes, are now being referred to as "traditional Democrats."
These people are "traditional Democrats" only in the sense that, for much of its history, the Democratic Party was in fact the "white man's party" -- home of the Ku Klux Klan and a long line of racial demagogues (see, e.g., the notorious Theodore Bilbo), as well as a clearly racist voting base, not just in the South but in the rural and suburban Midwest as well. It was not until the 1960s and '70s that the bulk of these racists -- politicos and voters alike -- largely migrated to the Republican Party under the aegeis of the "Southern Strategy."
In any event, as Blog for Arizona goes on to detail, Johnson's background -- beyond merely his support for the Minutemen -- is ripe with associations with the far-right militia movement:
- Here is where things start to get, well, odd. American Democrats for a Secure Borders is the brainchild of Mr. Russ Dove, the man who does 'U.S. Constitutional Enforcement' polling place patrols looking for illegal aliens trying to vote and runs Truth in Action News. Russ hangs out with such folks as Tom Tancredo, Randy Graf and his just-fired manager Steve Aiken, perennial candidate and avowed racist Joe Sweeney, and Mexican flag burning, public official threatening Roy Warden. Billionaires for Bush even gave Dove a card in their Deck of Block the Vote Heroes: he's the three of diamonds.
Those who concern themselves with the underground politics of the militia movement provide a capsule biography of Mr. Dove:
- Unlike Vanderboegh and Wright, who head state organizations of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Russ Dove's role in the MCDC is more circumspect. A member of the militia umbrella group the Third Continental Congress, Dove managed to escape association with that militia's most notorious criminal action-- Bradly Glover's planned attack on the US Army base at Fort Hood in 1997, which eventually sent seven members of the militia group to prison.
Based in Tucson, Dove has long been involved with the Sovereign Citizen Movement in Arizona, calls himself "Russ 'Sovereign' Dove," and styles himself a "biblical constitutionalist." His hatred of government was no doubt stroked by his 1980 felony conviction in California for attempted grand theft (two first degree burglary charges were dismissed).
Dove's current principal role in the MCDC is as a propagandist. He produces video tapes for the Minutemen, filming interviews with many MCDC participants during their border patrol operations and authoring frequent reports on immigration issues on his Web site and 'Truth In Action News' radio show."
Why dwell so thoroughly on the association with Dove? One might think this is just a second-hand association though a single organization and can have no real import for Mr. Johnson's candidacy. But Mr. Russell Dove is listed on Mr. Johnson's FEC filing as Johnson's Custodian of Records with the title 'Acting Manager'. So why is someone so clearly aligned with and active in GOP politics, engaged in race-based voter intimidation, deeply implicated in the racist militia underground, and a convicted felon, the 'Acting Manager' of a Democratic candidate's campaign?
As Mike goes on to say:
- We need to call bullshit on this candidate. Bill Johnson isn't a Democratic candidate at all. He's a ploy by extremist racists to inject their hateful invective into the Democratic Primary process to make their xenophobic ranting seem bi-partisan, and thus mainstream. They seek to force the media to frame racial hatred as a force in both party's politics, and not just the shameful underbelly of the GOP. They seek to silence critics in the Democratic Party by rebutting us with the rantings of 'one of our own'.
It's worth noting that Johnson is hardly the first such Democrat to surface this year. That honor belongs to Larry Darby of Alabama, who ran as a Democrat for state Attorney General on a platform of "reawakening white racial awarenessm," with a dose of Holocaust denial tossed in for good measure:
- Larry Darby, the founder of the Atheist Law Center, made an abortive bid for the attorney general job as a Libertarian in 2002, but only recently have his views on race and the Holocaust come to light.
... In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Darby said he believes no more than 140,000 Jewish people died in Europe during World War II, and most of them succumbed to typhus.
Historians say about 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, but Darby said the figure is a false claim of the "Holocaust industry."
Darby said he will speak Saturday near Newark, N.J., at a meeting of National Vanguard, which bills itself as an advocate for the white race. Some of his campaign materials are posted on the group's Internet site.
"It's time to stop pushing down the white man. We've been discriminated against too long," Darby said in the interview.
Indeed, the National Vanguard not only pushed Darby's candidacy, but it gave him room to issue threats against the Southern Poverty Law Center for having exposed his racist activities. (Incidentally, I noted these last year myself when Darby hosted an appearance in Alabama year by David Irving, the noted Holocaust denier.)
Most disturbingly, Darby came awfully close to winning, and it's probably not hard to divine the reasons why. But most appallingly, both the Alabama Democratic Party and the national party did almost nothing to distance itself from Darby.
That of course, leaves Republicans free to point out:
- "I think it is noteworthy that the Democratic Party had an atheist candidate and avowed Holocaust denier get so many votes in their primary," said Tim Howe, executive director of the Alabama Republican Party.
I keep hearing Democrats like Marshall Wittmann talk about the need to make the Democratic Party open to "more traditional" voters in order to win votes in rural America. When I hear that, I wonder if this is what they have in mind.
Because if it is, they're dead wrong.
An open letter to my fellow journalists
Monday, June 26, 2006
Look, I know a lot of you look upon bloggers with a great deal of suspicion because it seems like many of them are eager to displace our positions as public scribes and the arbiters of public discourse.
I understand a little of the resentment. A lot of bloggers seem to want to take short-cuts, touting information without double-checking it first. They want to claim they do what we do, but they don't adhere to basic journalistic rules at times. It feels like they haven't paid their journalistic dues.
Some of it also has to do with the realization, I think, that most bloggers are also our most avid consumers; they're the people who actually read what we write. There are fewer and fewer of them these days, and so we ought to appreciate their input.
But it turns out that our readers aren't the docile recipients of our collected wisdom that we long assumed they were. It turns out that they examine what we write critically, and now are capable of letting us know it; sometimes even rudely so. Who'da thunk?
There's good reason to be disquieted, because the ground is literally shifting under our feet; and while it's tempting to stand your ground, it's smarter to be nimble. As I've argued before, the old, elitist model of top-down communications is breaking down before our eyes, and it's happening at a fortuitous time: just as that old model is creaking toward its anti-democratic apotheosis.
Instead of fearing it, though, journalists -- real journalists, who eschew ideology for truth and humanity -- should be welcoming it. I grew up in an era when journalists' credo was to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," and while that may seem presumptuous (and maybe even wrong-headed) now, it had a human quality to it that is lacking in so much of our current journalism.
The Cursor Manifesto has it just about right:
- We believe that the tired old saw about the journalistÂ¹s responsibility being to "Afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted," is increasingly irrelevant when members of the media are so often accorded a celebrity status that places them in the upper echelons of the comfortable; and where what is passed off as comfort is too often purely manipulative and exploitative and what passes for affliction is usually little more than the sniping of dimwits and morons.
Nonetheless, I grew up in newspapering believing that we played a critical role in the functioning of a democratic society, because we were the source of so much public information and, in many ways, guided the public discourse.
I don't believe that has changed. What has changed is how well we live up that responsibility.
This is the main reason that I, for one, welcome the breakdown of the old model, though that's hardly a surprise, since for the past three and a half years I've been over here on the dark side, busily blogging away while publishing relatively little in the way of regular journalism during that time. I'm now officially one of them.
But remember that it wasn't so long ago that I was one of you -- just another newsroom schmoo trying to do his job and swim in currents that often seem counter to everything we've been taught that journalism is about. I edited copy, wrote headlines, laid out pages, set news budgets, met deadlines, tried to do reporting that made a difference. The things we all do at one time or another.
All that really changed for me was that I decided to take a hiatus from my newsroom work and become a stay-at-home father. The original plan was to build up a nice freelance clientele before the baby was born so that I could work from home after she was born. Seemed to be working, too; I was writing for Salon and stringing for the Washington Post and building a nice list of clients.
But then my daughter was born and it all went out the window; I discovered that it's impossible to juggle feeding and nap schedules along with interviews and story deadlines. So after a few months, I decided to switch to focusing on writing books, which I could do in the evenings and on weekends and in whatever snatches of free time I could manage.
As it happened, I also discovered in due time that I could blog with that kind of schedule too. And I was entranced with the idea of blogging, especially since it could provide an outlet for writing about subjects that I'd found most editors were too reluctant to tackle.
But working outside of a newsroom, for the first time, I began to realize just how timid most of us had become in the past decade, especially when it came to dealing with the American right. I had been disturbed, during the run-up to Clinton's impeachment and then in its aftermath, by the press' abject willingness to present conservative propaganda as factual -- just the "other side" of the story -- even when it was plainly, and often outrageously, false. And it came home during the 2000 election campaign, when the press clearly aligned itself behind George W. Bush and the Republicans. As I noted in a piece for MSNBC.com about the myths regarding Al Gore:
- Combined with the evolution of the "Liar Al" story and the rise of plainly right-biased news organizations like Fox News and the Washington Times, the evidence suggests that many newsrooms have responded to the charges of a "liberal" bias by instituting a de facto conservative bias. But the problem with either bias is that it overlooks factuality -- the basis of all credible journalism -- in the pursuit of partisan agendas. Stories become highly selective prosecutions instead of thorough and balanced news accounts.
The "liberal media bias" charge played a fundamental role in transforming American newsrooms, at a time when most were already facing shrinking budgets and tighter newsholes. What was most disappointing, really, was the way that the people running those newsrooms failed to realize that they were being played for fools the whole time.
It was more than apparent to many of us that the charge of "liberal media bias" was being made by people for whom any deviation from their political agenda constituted "liberalism" -- including simple critiques that demonstrated the factual falsity of their claims. Yet pieces like my analysis of the media storyline about Al Gore were generally ignored; writers who undermined the accepted script were treated as though we were the ones with a bias problem.
Conservatives, as their own work has made plain, have no interest in facts if they run counter to their own arguments; their idea of "journalism" is simply right-wing propaganda, pure and simple. Anything else is evidence of "liberal bias." This tendency to ignore and occlude opposing arguments reveals an important trait in the ideological makeup of movement conservatives: they assume that because their own approach to "journalism" is so grotesquely unbalanced that, of course, everyone else must operate the same way too. They can't understand journalistic balance because they're to busy projecting their own ideological bias onto everyone else.
In the ensuing years, the substitute conservative bias has become virtually institutionalized, a major cog in the always-churning right-wing propaganda machine. As Eric Boehlert explains in his marvelous new book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush ), in describing the relentless "press haters" who trot out a ceaseless parade of right-wing propaganda disguised as media criticism [p. 98]:
- The new generation, often peddling questionable "evidence" of liberal bias and with disregard for the facts, has no interest in simply "working the refs"; trying to get journalists to think twice next time they have to make a tough newsroom call on a sensitive political story. Press haters want to mug the refs, drag them in the alley and pummel them. Al Gore called the haters "digital brownshirts," on orders "to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President." Indeed, the press haters don't simply portray offending journalists as misguided or deceitful. They hold up MSM members of objects of scorn and vilify them as unpatriotic, or even treasonous.
I've spent the last couple of weeks reading Lapdogs carefully, and I think every working journalist, regardless of their political skew, ought to as well. Because it is a damning compilation of a reality that professionals in the press are now coming around to comprehending: Since George W. Bush's election campaign began, and even before, the press has utterly failed to live up to its responsibility to accurately and aggressively keep the public informed on the government and its actions.
Nearly any chapter alone stands as a sufficient indictment, but Chapter 6, "First Lieutenant Bush," has a special resonance for me, because it details the utter failure of the press to adequately examine Bush's military record, even as it simultaneously played up and treated credibly the laughably afactual Swift Boat Veterans attack on John Kerry. (Boehlert's reportage on the matter for Salon was first-rate as well.)
I became aware of the Bush-AWOL story back in the summer of 2000 and, having checked it out and concluded there was a there there, brought it to the attention of the editors at MSNBC.com in October -- but was told that, because it was so late in coming out, there was no interest in pursuing it.
Once I started up my blog, however, and was free from those constraints, I began publishing info about the matter as early as summer of 2003. The story picked up steam in January 2004, thanks to Michael Moore's controversial description of Bush as a "deserter." As it rolled along, I continued to post on it (here, here, here, here, here, and here, just for a sampling). And I was stunned to watch as the press ran away from it after the notorious CBS documents poisoned the well -- even though, as Boehlert puts it [p. 155]:
- Not one of the key facts, all established thourgh Bush's own military records, were altered by CBS's botched National Guard report. But the MSM, having already displayed little initiative on the story, took the 2004 CBS controversy as confirmation that they had been right in 2000 to wave off the issue of Bush's Guard duty; that there was nothing there. Spooked by the angry conservative mob assembled online and that had been taking aim at CBS and its anchor Dan Rather, the MSM in 2004 quickly sprinted away from questions about Bush's service and focused its attention solely on CBS's sins.
This wasn't the only story I pursued, as a blogger, critical of key figures on the right, and the conservative movement generally. Probably above all, I also have continually reported on the ways right-wing extremism has been insinuating itself in the mainstream through movement conservatism. These efforts have been well-received in the blogosphere, but have been largely ignored elsewhere, which doesn't surprise me in the least; it is, after all, a sensitive and difficult subject, and broaching it in the current media environment is akin to dropping a turd into the punchbowl. I wrote about it for my blog precisely because I knew the mainstream press was too timid to consider approaching it.
My perspective in doing this, all along, has been a reporter's; I've simply been honestly trying to report what I know and what I observe as an eyewitness to events. My experience with right-wing extremists of the militia/Patriot movement in the 1990s -- I interviewed large numbers of them and spent a lot of time among them -- lent me a particular insight about their nature, namely, that the stereotype of them as mouth-breathing louts is grossly out of whack with the reality. Most of them lead seemingly normal lives, are well-educated, have thoroughly thought-out belief systems, and are not likely to stand out at a Wal-Mart.
Perhaps more to the point, I also could see, even in the 1990s, that the difference between them and any number of fire-breathing movement conservatives was in many ways only a difference of degree and, perhaps, honesty (that is, the "extremists" were actually more honest in that they were willing to express openly what many supposedly mainstream right-wingers will say privately). And, as we progressed through the Bush election and 9/11 and the Iraq invasion, it became clear to me that those differences were gradually vanishing. So I wrote about it.
Of course, for these efforts I think I've been somewhat marginalized outside of the blogosphere. My term as a stay-at-home dad is ending this autumn, and I've been putting out feelers for newsroom work in preparation, and so far it's been largely a cold shoulder. It seems being labeled a barking moonbat is a bad career move.
What I hear from the right, a lot, is that I'm a conspiracy theorist -- which is kind of ironic, since I devoted so much of my time in the 1990s to examining, and largely debunking, a large number of conspiracy theories, and I understand their nature a little better than most. More to the point, what I posit in my arguments is not the existence of anything like a conspiracy; rather, what I'm arguing from is a normative understanding of the way ideas migrate among political sectors.
Still, I knew that this was a likelihood when I embarked on this adventure, though, and I have no regrets about it. I knew back in 2000 that being accused of "liberal" bias was more an indication of effectiveness in confronting the endless stream of afactual propaganda that was the right's most effective weapon in it assault on journalistic integrity. Today -- even though, as I've explained before, I'm truthfully more conservative than most of my readers suspect -- I proudly wear the label of "liberal". Go ahead, call me a moonbat. It just means I'm still doing my job.
You know, one of those other hoary old journalistic adages I've always tried to adhere to is Lars-Erik Nelson's warning:
- "The enemy isn't conservatism. The enemy isn't liberalism. The enemy is bullshit."
At some point, journalists are going to have to come to terms with the reality that the bullshit, in the past 10 years and more, has not been an even-steven thing, where liberals are just as prone to it as conservatives -- though most "fair and balanced" journalists like to pretend that this is so.
No, the reality is that in that time, the levels of unmitigated bullshit flowing from the many founts of, er, wisdom on the right has been ceaseless, programmatic, and deliberately aimed at overwhelming the press. That's not to say that the left doesn't peddle bullshit still, nor that every jot and tittle emanating from the right is a falsehoood. But the proportionate level of bullshit from the right is so overwhelming as to render any quibbles almost negligible.
The press is drowning in it, as Lapdogs demonstrates on every page. And the blogosphere, believe it or not, has the potential to be a lifeline.
If reporters can overcome their initial defensiveness, they will discover that bloggers' critiques can actually be helpful and insightful. Perhaps more to the point, they'll discover that there is a wealth of real information available on blogs that often was tucked away into obscure corners, particularly expertise from the likes of Juan Cole and P.Z. Myers.
Cultivating a working relationship with bloggers, instead of viewing them as adversaries, would be in every journalist's best interests. They can be useful resources as sounding boards, and they can also be helpful in disseminating those news bits that don't quite make it into your stories.
We'll see, over the coming year, whether or not I wind up rejoining your ranks. Even if I don't, I'm still holding out hope that there are still enough of you out there who remember what journalism is supposed to be about. People who have had enough, have seen the credibility of their industry reach record lows, and want to do something about it. People ready to stand up, call bullshit what it is and damn the consequences.
In the end, it's what this work has always been about. Time to get back to it.
[Be sure to check out the excellent discussions of Lapdogs at Firedoglake, including last week's installment from Peter Daou, and this week's from Jane Hamsher, for which Boehlert himself showed up.]
Al Gore myths
[Note: This piece was originally published Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2000, at MSNBC.com, and remained on the site for about a month. Because there are no archives at MSNBC available, I'm reproducing it here to complement the above post, so that readers can see the piece being referenced. The version here is the one submitted for publication, which was then edited slightly in the final version.]
Liar, liar, pants on fire
Who's got a problem with the truth?
The press should look in the mirror
By David Neiwert
Special to MSNBC
Al Gore is a liar, and George Bush is dumb: That seems to be the script about the two men running for the presidency handed to us by the national press. Bush demonstrated in the first two debates that the legend of his stupidity is nonsense, despite a couple of stumbles. Contrarily, Al Gore seemed to provide grist for the mill of stories about his "truthfulness." But that story, too, is mostly a myth -- as is nearly the entire scenario about Gore’s alleged lies.
THE "GORE IS A LIAR" tale is widely presented to the public as a reminder that personal character remains an issue for many voters. And it's supposed to represent a deep-seated problem, possibly a psychological malfunction, of the vice-president's -- as though journalists and TV talking heads had suddenly sprouted psychology degrees on their résumés.
But in fact, what the case represents is a breakdown in basic standards of journalism -- simple factual accuracy -- on a massive scale, signaling deep-seated problems in the profession that are reflected in the public's growing skepticism about our fairness.
Nearly the entire array of supposed "lies" uttered by Al Gore are gross distortions of what the vice president actually uttered. Almost all of them are partisan renderings of otherwise innocent remarks, and calling them "lies" or "fabrications" is at best a gross overstatement:
- -- Gore claims he 'invented the Internet.' Actually, Gore never laid any kind of claim to invention. What he in fact said, during a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on March 9, 1999, was this: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." This is a clumsy rendition of a factual event: Gore was a key player in Congress in moving the network that became the Internet from the realm of the military and academia, where it originally was devised, and into the public realm, where it became the mass phenomenon it is today.
Vincent Cerf, the man widely credited as the actual "father of the Internet," in fact argues that Gore should get a great deal of credit for his seminal role in creating the legal foundation for the Internet. And even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- no ally of the vice president -- agrees: "In all fairness, it's something Gore had worked on a long time," he recently told a Washington gathering. "Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet."
-- Gore claims he was the role model for 'Love Story.' This tale originated with a 1997 story in the Nashville Tennessean -- an interview with the book's author, Erich Segal, in which the reporter wrote that Segal indicated that Gore and his wife, Tipper, were the role models for the book's main characters. Then, in December 1997, in a light, late-night conversation about favorite movies with a pair of reporters from Time magazine and the New York Times, Gore briefly mentioned the story, accurately, as a humorous aside.
Later, after the tale had blown up and was distorted into one of Gore's "fabrications," the Times contacted Segal, and he told them the Tennessean was wrong: Gore in fact was one of the models for the Oliver Barrett character -- along with his roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones -- but Tipper had nothing to do with it. Nonetheless, despite the Times' correction and the insistence of the original Time reporter, Karen Tumulty, that the remark wasn’t a boast of any sort, and was factually correct -- "He said all I know is that's what he [Segal] told reporters in Tennessee" -- the fabricated "fabrication" remains a standard of TV and newspaper pundits.
-- Gore was never a farm boy -- he grew up in a posh Washington hotel. A number of critics, both in print and on TV, have castigated Gore for making remarks on the stump about the chores he performed on his family farm in Tennessee. They point to his youth as a senator's son, attending private school and living in a Washington hotel. But that's only a half-truth; though his school years were spent in D.C., Gore in fact spent his summers working on the Gores' farm in Carthage. Every biographer of Gore -- including those critical of Gore, such as Bob Zelnick -- has detailed the fact that he performed strenuous daily chores every summer of his youth. And the summers on the farm have likewise been detailed in a number of in-depth Gore profiles in The Washington Post, the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
-- Gore claims to have 'started it all' at Love Canal. This legend began with a gross misquote that appeared simultaneously in the New York Times and the Washington Post, reporting that Gore had told a group of students that he had discovered the Love Canal toxic waste dump as an issue, adding: "I was the one that started it all." In fact, Gore didn't claim he discovered the Love Canal issue; he said instead that it had supplemented his crusade against toxic wastes, inspired by an incident in Toone, Tenn., after a teenager there had written him a letter alerting him to problems in the town: "I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee -- that was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all."
Clearly, Gore hadn't said, "I was the one that started it all." And the "one" that started it all was Toone, not Love Canal. What Gore was describing was factually correct in every respect -- he had written about it in detail in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, and his role as a prime mover in creating the toxic-waste cleanup Superfund has been amply documented by his biographers, including Zelnick. Both the Times and the Post ran corrections. But that fact has escaped the numerous pundits and partisans who bandy about the phrase "Love Canal" as yet another sound bite implying that Gore is a liar.
-- Gore claims his mother sang to him as a lullaby a union song written when he was 27. Gore didn’t make this claim seriously. As video tapes of the remark Gore made to an audience of Teamsters on Sept. 18, Gore was trying to make a joke when he said, "I still remember the lullabies I heard as a child," then sang a few bars of the ad jingle, "Look for the Union Label." Gore laughs, and the audience laughs. When dumb jokes are construed as falsehoods, the question needs to be asked: Is someone lacking a sense of humor?
After the debate
In each case, the factual basis of these tales is simply nonexistent, and in some cases their misreporting is simple malfeasance by the journalists responsible. Nonetheless, each of these tales has woven its way into the national discourse in such a way that the truth about them isn’t even questioned. And around the bones of these legends, a dozen or more supplemental incidents have been added to the story -- mostly cases in which Gore's interpretation of events might be open to question, and the dispute is then elevated to the level of proof that Gore is a liar.
This happened immediately after the first debate between Gore and Bush in Boston on Oct. 3. Two points raised by Gore caught the press' attention:
- -- Gore mentioned the case of a young student in Florida forced to stand in her class because of overcrowding at the school. Gore relied on an outdated news account -- the girl had in the interim managed to get a seat at a desk -- and officials at the school leapt to their own defense and branded Gore a liar, with those accounts receiving wide play. Receiving lesser play was the fact that the newspaper that provided the original account re-examined the case and found the basic facts of Gore's story intact: the school remained overcrowded, and several students had in fact been forced to stand for several weeks when school opened.
-- Gore mentioned that he had visited Texas in the wake of a series of disastrous fires with FEMA Director James Witt. It turned out that, though Gore in fact had made dozens of trips with Witt to various disaster scenes, Witt hadn’t been along on the trip Gore mentioned. Gore apologized for the mistake the next day. But again, pundits pointed to the misstep as further proof of Gore's dishonesty.
Unlike the previous cases, in both of these instances Gore was guilty of minor factual inaccuracy and thus shares some of the blame for them. But if relying on outdated news accounts for illustrative anecdotes and misremembering the details of your many duties as an official functionary stand as proof of dishonesty, then Ronald Reagan was a liar of colossal proportions.
How legends grow
These myths don't originate by osmosis or accident. In fact, nearly all of them can be directly traced to the Republican National Committee, which has developed a zeal for faxing attacks on Gore's credibility as part of a general strategy to attach him in voters' minds to a Clinton administration they regularly portray as "corrupt."
Such tactics shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with political campaigns. Convincing voters of an opponent's perfidousness is a time-honored electoral strategy. What is disturbing, though, is the clear picture of a credulous press simply accepting that particular spin on events and running it whole, devoid of any factual counterbalance. (Of particular note is the shared misquote of Gore's "Love Canal" remark in both the Times and the Post, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a similar alteration of Gore's remarks in an RNC fax.)
The independence and veracity of the press has been called into question increasingly in the past decade. Cries against a perceived "liberal media bias" -- some of them well-grounded, some of them mere partisan ax-grinding based on skewed data -- were heard loudly in the early 1990s and continue today.
But in the past couple of years, the tide seems to have reversed itself. Of particular note was a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press analyzing press coverage of the presidential race between April and June 2000. It found that 76 percent of the coverage of Gore focused on two negative themes: his "lies," and exaggerations and his alleged fund-raising scandals. Meanwhile, the survey found, coverage of George W. Bush largely involved warm accounts of "compassionate conservatism" and Bush's purported move to the political center.
Combined with the evolution of the "Liar Al" story and the rise of plainly right-biased news organizations like Fox News and the Washington Times, the evidence suggests that many newsrooms have responded to the charges of a "liberal" bias by instituting a de facto conservative bias. But the problem with either bias is that it overlooks factuality -- the basis of all credible journalism -- in the pursuit of partisan agendas. Stories become highly selective prosecutions instead of thorough and balanced news accounts.
If the press is serious about responding to a rising tide of reader and audience surveys indicating a steadily eroding trust in the value of their work, it needs to begin by making factual accuracy and basic balance and fairness its hallmarks and not mere afterthoughts. And it wouldn't hurt if it dropped the half-baked armchair psychoanalysis from its repertoire, either.